When it comes to discussing the future of our region, you can talk about Hanford all you want.
But there's a much bigger issue, one that many people overlook: water.
That's right, the stuff that surrounds us in rivers and irrigation canals has a far greater bearing on our future than anything else, Hanford included.
Without water, there is no livelihood for any of us. Without water, there is no quality of life. Without water, there is no future for the Tri-Cities and its environs.
The Washington Department of Ecology held workshops last week to discuss the outlook for water supply and demand in Eastern Washington. Only 50 people showed up at the Richland meeting, and most of them were farmers or other agricultural interests.
That's because farmers get it. They know water is key to crop and livestock production. They know new water supplies would bring more jobs and economic growth to the region. They know it is something that requires action before it is too late.
We do live in a desert, after all. Plans to find new sources of water have been in the works for decades without much success.
The report from the Department of Ecology shows municipal demand for water increasing by 24 percent by 2030, and a 10 percent increase in agricultural water needs.
Unfortunately, the supply is only supposed to increase 3 percent in the same time period. You don't need a calculator to see that those figures don't balance.
Scientists at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory are leading the charge in climate change studies and they believe we will see an increase in the Earth's temperature over the next 50 years, endangering water supplies even further.
It will mean less snow in the mountains, which means less water come spring. Warming will bring floods in fall and winter when demand is low, and droughts in the parched summer months.
Those conditions will influence everything from land use to salmon policy to crops, not to mention recreation and tourism. We won't tell you what it will do to your now lovely green yards and water-sucking landscapes.
The obvious answer is increased storage that can capture water during times of excess and release it when things dry up.
The cost for new storage capacity is high, but the cost of doing nothing is even higher.
Some of the research in the Ecology Department report may woefully underestimate the potential power of new water sources for the ag community.
The study shows that if 11,000 more acres of crops were irrigated in Benton County, 165 jobs would be created and gross sales would increase by $20.5 million. But as many of us know, some crops are more labor intensive than others. Many farmers think that labor estimate is far too low and doesn't show the true economic benefit of bringing irrigation to new lands.
The report is the result of 2006 legislation that allocated $200 million for water conservation, storage and agreements in our region. Officials must find alternate water for farmers around the Moses Lake region who are using the depleted Odessa aquifer.
Other legislative mandates include dealing with hundreds of pending water rights requests that have been in limbo for up to 20 years, improving stream flows for fish and helping those with junior water rights on the Columbia River find the water they need.
The Legislature is to receive a final report in November. Another forecast on water demand won't be done for five more years, so the data gathered now is critical.
One grape grower summed up a large part of the problem at the Richland meeting: "This is a huge issue that affects a lot of people, but the people here are the only ones who recognize it. More people need to understand the importance of water in the region."
We couldn't agree more. Like we said, the farmers get it, but they can't solve it alone.